"Earth bound history has ended. Universal history has begun."

Earl Hubbard. American Philosopher

The goal of Apollo | The Saturn-V rocket | The spacecraft | A tragic calamity | Musical chairs | Tracking system

Canberra and Honeysuckle | Simulations | Apollo-4 First Saturn-5 flight | Apollo-5 Unmanned Lunar module

Apollo-6 | Apollo-7 First manned Apollo | Ready for the moon | Apollo-8 First to leave the earth

Apollo-9 LEM in earth orbit | Apollo-10 Dress rehersal | Now we can land | CSIRO joins the network

On to Apollo-11 | Back to Index | My home page

Project Apollo began under various names the first title from a committee meeting in April 1959 called it a Manned Lunar Landing Program, and one cumbersome title was Manned Lunar Landing Involving Rendezvous. Abe Silverstein, Director of Space Flight Programs at NASA Headquarters, looked around for a program name, but nothing came up that appealed, so in January, 1960, he consulted a book of mythology. He said, "I thought the image of the God Apollo riding his chariot across the sun gave the best representation of the grand scale of the proposed program, so I chose it." Nobody objected and Hugh Dryden, the Deputy Administrator of NASA publicly announced it on July 28, 1960.

NASA Administrator Webb; "The Apollo Program grew out of a ferment of imaginative thought and public debate. Long range goals and priorities within our governmental, quasi governmental, and private institutions were agreed on. Debate focused on such questions as which should come first - increasing scientific knowledge or using man-machine combinations to extend both our knowledge of science and lead to advances in engineering? Should we concentrate on purely scientific unmanned missions? Should such practical uses of space as weather observations and communication relay stations have priority? Was it more vital to concentrate on increasing our military strength, or to engage in spectacular prestige building exploits?"



Administrator Webb defined the goal of Apollo as: "To take off from a point on the surface of the Earth, travel to a body in space 240,000 miles distant, to go into orbit around this body, and to drop a specialised landing vehicle to its surface. There men were to make observations and measurements, collect specimens, leave instruments that would send back data on what was found, and then repeat much of the outward bound process to get back home. One such expedition would not do the job. NASA had to develop a reliable system capable of doing this time after time."


Dr. Robert Gilruth, Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center: "Even before the President's decision to land on the moon, we had been working on designs and guidelines for a manned circumlunar mission. This was done in a series of bull sessions on how we would design the spaceship for this purpose if the opportunity occurred. Our key people would get together evenings, weekends, or whenever we could to discuss such questions as crew size and other fundamental design factors. We believed that we would need three men on the trip to do all the work required, even before the complexity of the landing was added.

The conceptual design of the moonship was done in two phases. The Command and Service Module evolved first as part of our circumlunar studies, and the lunar lander was added later after the mode decision was made."

Dr. Robert Seamans, Associate Administrator, "As planning for Apollo began, we identified more than 10,000 separate tasks that had to be accomplished to put a man on the moon. Each task had its particular objectives, its manpower needs, its time schedule, and its complex interrelationship with many other tasks. Which had to be done first? Which could be done concurrently? What were the critical sequences? How and where were major parts to be developed and made? How were they to be shipped?

Apollo was an incredible mixture of large and small, of huge structures and miniaturised equipment. Throughout the program we tried to maintain a flexible posture, keeping as many options open as possible. Alternate plans had to be quickly but carefully evaluated. The Apollo 8 flight was an example of the virtue of schedule flexibility. We could not take steps so small that the exposure to the ever present risk outweighed minor gains expected. Yet neither could we take steps so big that we stretched equipment and people dangerously far beyond the capabilities that had already been demonstrated. We followed the fundamental policy of capitalising on success, always advancing on each mission as rapidly as good judgment dictated."

By the end of 1967, America was launching the world's biggest booster, the mighty Saturn V rocket. The rocket was named Saturn because it is the next planet after Jupiter in our solar system and Jupiter was von Braun's earlier rocket. With the Saturn V Dr. Werner von Braun reached his goal his boyhood dream of building a rocket to send manned spacecraft into space was fulfilled.



It took 325,000 people to help von Braun produce the Saturn over a period of five years. In designing this big booster, the first consideration was for the safety of the astronauts. Second was weight. For every pound (.45 kg) of payload in a 10,000 lb (4536 kg) spacecraft, 75 lb (34 kg) of rocket thrust would be required. To add another pound (0.45 kg) you were touching off a nightmarish chain reaction of more fuel, therefore more weight, therefore still more fuel. If von Braun added a 100 lb (45 kg) to the Saturn's first stage he would be rid of it 2½ minutes after liftoff. But if the flight engineers added a 100 lb (45 kg) to the lunar spacecraft, it had to be lugged around in space for up to 8 days.

The Saturn V, popularly known in the industry as "The Stack", was made up of three separate rocket motors, each with a special task. The bottom part, or first stage, was the most powerful working motor the world had ever known. Called the Saturn SIC, it was built by the Boeing Company. Clustered around the base were five big Rocketdyne F1 engines which pushed the 363 feet (110.6 metres) high, 3,000 ton vehicle from rest on the pad to 9 times the speed of sound in the first two and a half minutes, consuming 2,096 tons of kerosene and liquid oxygen at a rate of 13.1 tons per second and producing an incredible 7.6 million lb (3.45 million kg) of thrust!

Stop and look at those figures again.... and visualise a vehicle the height of a 36story building, the weight of a navy destroyer, taking off and breaking through the sound barrier in 40 seconds, then reaching 9 times the speed of sound in the next 90 seconds!! An awesome spectacle of brutal power and noise. The centre motor was fixed, but the four outer motors swivelled around to steer the vehicle. Resembling a shower rose the size of a manhole cover, the heart of the motor was the injector, which had to control the flow of 2.6 tons of fuel and oxidiser per second through 6,300 holes into the huge combustion chamber. It took 30 different designs over 18 months before they had a reliable injector. To test the cure for an instability problem that destroyed the motor during trials, they had to install a small bomb in the combustion chamber. The resulting explosion while the engine was running temporarily disrupted the flow of fuel to make sure the engine would recover and not destroy itself. Despite its vast size, a thumbprint left in the fuel tank could leave enough grease to react with the oxidiser to make an explosion.

The second stage was built by North American Aviation Rockwell International. Called the Saturn II, it was powered by five J2 engines, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen totalling 1,153,712 lb of thrust, which pushed the vehicle to a height of 100 miles (161 km) before dropping off for the third and final stage to take over, a single J2 stage of 208,242 lb thrust to shove the spacecraft into orbit from a height of 115 miles (185 km). This third stage, built by McDonnell Douglas Astronautics and called the Saturn IVB, was used again to drive the Command and Service Module from 17,400 mph (28,000 kph) in Earth orbit to 24,600 mph (39,588 kph) to overcome the Earth's gravity and send the astronauts and their spacecraft out into space. The Saturn IVB accompanied the CSM to the moon and in the later missions crashed onto the lunar surface for the seismometers to measure the effect of the impact.

Between these rocket motors and the manned spacecraft on the top was a circular collar called the Instrumentation Unit, or IU, which was built by IBM, and contained the controlling and guidance equipment for all the rocket motors.

Systems engineering and overall responsibility was given to the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama, under the direction of Wernher von Braun: "Throughout Saturn V's operational life, its developers felt a relentless pressure to increase its payload capacity. At first, the continually growing weigh of the LM was the prime reason. Later, after the first successful lunar landing, the appetite for longer lunar stay times grew. Scientists wanted landing sites at higher lunar latitudes, and astronauts, like tourists everywhere, wanted a rental car at their destination. How well this growth demand was met is shown by a pair of numbers: The Saturn V that carried Apollo 8 to the moon had a total payload above the IU (Instrumentation Unit) of less than 80,000 lb (36,288 kg); in comparison, the Saturn that launched the last lunar mission had a payload of 116,000 lb (52,618 kg)."

Why was the Saturn V so reliable? Von Braun again: "It was not designed in the sense that everything was made needlessly strong and heavy. But great care was devoted to identifying the real environment in which each part was to work - and "environment" included accelerations, vibrations, stresses, fatigue loads, pressures, temperatures, humidity, corrosion, and test cycles prior to launch. Test programs were then conducted against somewhat more severe conditions than expected. A methodology was created to assess each part with a demonstrated reliability figure, such as 0.9999998. Total rocket reliability would then be the product of all these parts reliabilities, and had to remain above a figure of 0.990, or 99%."

A team of 463 trained technicians, backed up by more than 5,000 specialists directly involved in the launch operations, were needed just to get the Saturn V off the ground and into orbit, an operational period of about 12 minutes.

On top of this monstrous fuel tank, sat two of the most complex and sophisticated craft ever built the Command and Service Module and the Lunar Module, made up of four million parts. The super concentrated development of various systems to support the Apollo missions produced many brilliant inventions that were lost in the immense project, but each playing a vital role in the ultimate success of the mission. The engineering accomplishments to achieve a lunar mission are beyond comprehension to anyone not directly involved. For instance, to the average citizen used to the normal picnic vacuum flask, it is hard to comprehend such revolutionary devices as the specially developed fuel tanks to preserve the super cooled fuel. If the ice from your refrigerator was put in this tank, and the tank was kept in your kitchen, it would take over 8 years for the ice to melt!


The Command Module was 11 feet (3.4 metres) long, 13 feet (3.9 metres) wide, and weighed 6 tons. It was the only part of the Stack that returned to Earth. As well as all the navigation, engineering, propulsion, and other mission requirements, it had to provide living accommodation for three people for the duration of the mission. It also had to be able to fly through the atmosphere, be a sophisticated spacecraft, mobile home, reentry vehicle, parachutist, and boat.

The Service Module carried most of the consumables, power, and spacecraft environmental control system, for the journey to the moon and back. It was cast off just before reentry. It also had the SPS (Service Propulsion System), a rocket engine of 9,670 lb thrust for changing the spacecraft's course, such as coming out of lunar orbit. The Service Module was a cylinder 24 feet (7.3 metres) long, 13 feet (4 metres) in diameter, weighing 26 tons fully loaded. The Command and Service Module, normally combined and called the CSM, were mated together for the whole journey until just before reentering the Earth's atmosphere, when the Service Module was cast off, leaving only the Command Module, housing the astronauts, to return to the Earth's surface.

The combined Command and Service Module was usually referred to as the CSM.

The picture of the Apollo 13 CSM being loaded onto the Saturn V on page ( ?) gives a clear view of what it looks like.

The Lunar Module, or LM, separated from the CSM in lunar orbit and landed on the surface of the moon. Using its legs as a launching platform, known as the Descent Stage, the remaining part of the LM, known as the Ascent Stage, returned to the CSM, and was cast off in lunar orbit. In the case of Apollo 11, the LM was left in lunar orbit, but in the remaining Apollo lunar missions the LM was crashed onto the moon's surface to provide seismic readings of the lunar interior on the instruments left behind by the astronauts. The whole LM stood 23 feet (7 metres) tall and weighed 16 earth tons. Designed to work in only one sixth gravity, no atmosphere, and with a critical launch weight, the LM was such a fragile craft that if a worker on earth dropped a screwdriver it would easily punch a hole through the thin aluminium skin.

The computer on the LM was 24 inches (61 cm) long by 12 inches (30.5 cm) high, and 6 inches (15 cm) wide, and weighed 70 lb (31.7 kg). Twenty five years later it is hard for computer literate people to believe that the computer filled a box that size, with a memory of only 38K (38,916 bytes).

The astronauts flew the LM standing up, cinched down with straps. It was very basic there was nowhere to sit down and no lining on the insides. Weight was so crucial even the paint was specially selected.

Neil Armstrong on the Lunar Module: "The design was an evolutionary process. The cabin volume was changed from spherical to cylindrical; the landing legs were reduced from 5 to 4; the window area was substantially reduced; and the seat removed. The standing pilot, or 'Trolley Conductor' cockpit reduced weight, moved the pilot's eyes closer to the windshield, improved visibility, and improved the structure. A cable restraint system was devised to keep the pilots in the proper position in the cabin and hold them secure during touchdown loads.

Unfortunately, lunar flying experience is limited. The six lunar modules to reach the (moon's) surface amassed a total 'lunar flying' time of less than a quarter of an hour. Also, unfortunately, there is no photograph of a LM in the landing approach. There's an old saying about flying machines (grammatically questionable but generally appropriate): 'If it looks good, it flies good.' The LM was the ultimate in exceptions proving the rule. Handling qualities of the craft were remarkably good."

Just designing these spacecraft for extreme conditions was not enough they had to test them to the limit as well. After surviving 587,500 inspection points they and their systems had to go through shock tests which included temperatures of -320F (-196C) on one side and plus 320F (160C) on the other; tests for sand, rain, salt water, raw oxygen, shock, vibration, high acceleration, in fact every test that American technology could come up with.

Thirteen Saturn V rockets were launched without a single loss. Considering the tight launch schedules and enormous complexity and volatility of these motors and their control equipment, it was a remarkable achievement by the 26,500 highly trained workers at the Cape in its heyday from any aspect. The logistics of organising a steady flow of faultless Apollo spacecraft on time to the launch pad were simply incredible. One of the legends of the skills required to work on the launch complex said that a crane operator had to lower an 40 ton weight to touch a raw egg without cracking the shell to qualify for the job.

Rocco Petrone, Director of Launch Operations at the time, recalled: "We had to work concurrently on different launch flows. When Apollo was at its peak we had three firing rooms working simultaneously in the launch control centre, with three crews of nearly 500 people apiece manning the consoles. That took a lot of manpower."

"Each vehicle took five months from the time its components arrived at the Vehicle Assembly building until launch. Teams of 500 people were working twelve and thirteen hour days. We had both to prepare the bird and make sure our people could detect and understand any anomaly. I used to walk through the console area right up to the last 45 minutes before liftoff. I'd be checking on alertness, especially among men who had been working long hours. Were they fatigued? Were they concentrating on the dials? Was there any unnecessary chit chat going on? You do not get the commitment for launch without a lot of hard days and weeks and months of practice."

"I have often been asked why it took hundreds of men to launch the astronauts to the Moon, whereas just two of them can launch themselves back into lunar orbit. The men on the moon had everything they needed: their fuel was loaded; they had water; their cooling system was working; and so was their oxygen supply. These systems were working because of the preparations and checkout efforts of hundreds of people on the ground before the spacecraft was committed to launch."

Although the astronauts received the publicity and accolades, throughout the whole program there was an army of scientists, engineers, technicians, and workers who gave their best to produce the machines and procedures on time, and when things went wrong, were on hand to find solutions under enormous pressure and short timeframes. In Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo there were many times these dedicated people were called upon to deliver extra, almost impossible, efforts to provide solutions to problems that could never be encountered on Earth.

Let their efforts never be forgotten.

So everything was looking set for America and Russia to race down the home stretch together, America with an apparent lead. But..........



The Apollo Program was about to get under way with what became known as Apollo 1. It was 1:00 pm on Friday afternoon, January 27, 1967; the sun was shining down on the tiny Apollo spacecraft perched on top of the gleaming new Saturn rocket on the new launch complex at Cape Canaveral. Gus Grissom, Edward White, and rookie Roger Chaffee were at the controls of the spacecraft, following a routine simulation, but rather unhappy about its progress. There had been a lot of niggling troubles right from the start.

Gus Grissom had been so unhappy about the way things were going, that at one stage he hung a lemon on the hatch of the spacecraft in the manufacturers to show his feelings. It had suffered over 20,000 test failures and many setbacks and defects during manufacture. Then, during communication problems in the test he had said, "How do you expect to get us to the moon if you people can't even hook us up with a ground station?"

With 10 minutes to the simulated launch, or T 10 at 6:31 pm local time, Roger Chaffee's terse voice announced, "I smell something burning in the cabin...." then desperately, "We're burning up. Get us out of here.....". and less than three seconds later there was a flash of light on the television screens. In the 100% pure oxygen under rapidly increasing pressure, every combustible item began to burn with a savage, super intensity. Television cameras outside focused on the hatch to monitor the escape procedures to be practiced later, showed movements inside which could have been White reaching up in a final effort to open the hatch; then the flames spread like a yellow sheet across the window. Flames also began to sprout out of vents and cable entry holes.

Donald Babbitt, one of the pad leaders with an office next to the spacecraft, yelled at nearby technicians to get the crew out, and tried to contact the blockhouse to raise the alarm. The cabin pressure rose to 29 lb (13 kg) when flames and gases burst out of the ruptured spacecraft with a roar from under Chaffee's couch onto the service platforms. Babbitt was nearly overwhelmed by a sudden blast of pressure and searing heat with particles that speckled his clothes with burning holes, and heard voices calling, "She's going to blow. Clear the level...!!" He turned to run, but recovered and collected three technicians with a shout, "Lets get that hatch off - we've got to get them out of there." They could only see a few inches through the thick smoke which enveloped them, and had to make frequent dashes for the nearest fresh air. More helpers arrived. A few gas masks and fire extinguishers turned out to be quite useless, so the rescuers resorted to crawling around on the floor, trying to avoid the poisonous gases and smoke swirling around above them.

Deke Slayton, checking procedures with Capcom Stu Roosa in the blockhouse, immediately ordered a medical team to the spacecraft.

It took them six minutes to open the hatch and reveal the holocaust and meltdown within. The first rescuers to look inside could see little through the darkness and smoke. Carrying a torch, fireman James Burch pushed his way into the cockpit and first found White's feet and legs in the smouldering boots and legs of the spacesuit. He grabbed at a leg and was surprised to find it was still normal flesh - but the body was lifeless. He drew back and flashed his torch around; Chaffee was strapped in his couch, Grissom was sitting looking towards White who was lying on his back just below the hatch, his arms still reaching for the bolts. Some lights on the instrument panels were still glowing dully through the thick smoke.

Down below, the pad crew milled about, not knowing what had happened. Later 27 technicians were treated for smoke inhalation. The emergency escape procedures, to be tried later that day at the personal request of the astronauts themselves, planned to have the astronauts out of the spacecraft in 90 seconds Grissom, White, and Chaffee died in less than 14 seconds.

The hatch that was supposed to protect them from the dangers of space, trapped them to a superheated death within. Officially they died from suffocation by poisonous gases, mainly carbon monoxide.

Terry Kierans, M&O Supervisor at Carnarvon: "At first we thought the news coming down the communications line from Cape Canaveral was part of the simulation, until a teletype message explained the awful truth."

For a quick escape the Mercury spacecraft had an outward opening hatch. Gus Grissom nearly drowned in 1961 when the hatch of the MA4 Mercury capsule inadvertently blew off and the spacecraft sank under him. This incident helped NASA decide to specify that the Apollo spacecraft should have an inward opening hatch. It is ironic that this newly designed hatch was sealed too tightly to be opened quickly after the fire had increased the internal pressure of the capsule. Twice Grissom was unfortunate enough to have the wrong hatch at the wrong time.

Due to the intensity of the fire caused by the pure oxygen under higher than normal pressure, and the destruction of the interior of the spacecraft the precise cause of the fire was never really determined. It started under Grissom's couch, and was apparently caused by a momentary arc in the wiring, possibly from damaged insulation. A sudden voltage fluctuation about nine seconds before the first cry tended to confirm this proposal.

The shock spread across the world. The next day, NASA Administrator Webb said, "We've always known something like this would happen sooner or later... who would have thought the first tragedy would be on the ground?"

Typical of the fastmoving Webb, within three months he was getting the momentum of NASA going again. Viennaborn George Low, Deputy Director of the Manned Spacecraft Centre at Houston, was in a Grumman Gulfstream plane taxiing onto the runway at Washington airport, when it was recalled, and the passengers told to wait in the airport lounge room. In the lounge Low found: "Everybody in the line of command above me in NASA seemed to be there, everybody between me and the President. Jim Webb asked me to take over the management of Apollo. I probably would have liked some time to think about it, but since anyone I might have wanted to consult was already there in the room, there was no point in waiting. I said 'Yes, Sir'."

Low found the job overwhelming, "Dictating 18 hour days, seven days a week. My briefcase was my office, my suitcase my home, as I moved from Houston to Downey, to Bethpage, to Cape Canaveral, and back to Houston again. At Tranquillity Base, the Sun would only rise 33 more times before 1970."

During the modifications Low said, "Arguments got pretty hot as technical alternatives were explored. In the end I would usually decide, usually on the spot, always explaining my decision openly and in front of those who liked it least. To me this was the test of a true decision to look straight into the eyes of the person most affected by it, knowing full well that months later on the morning of a flight, I would look into the eyes of the men whose lives would depend on that decision. One could not make any mistakes.

No detail was too small to consider. We asked questions, received answers, asked more questions. We woke up in the middle of the night, remembering questions we should have asked, and jotted them down so we could ask them in the morning. If we made a mistake it was only because we weren't smart enough to ask all the right questions. Every question was answered, every failure understood, every problem solved."

The scientists and engineers were able to minimise the possibility of a fire inside the spacecraft, but could not beat the launch pad pure oxygen pressure of 16 psi (110 kPa). So eventually they solved that problem by launching with a spacecraft cabin atmosphere of 60% oxygen and 40% nitrogen at 16 psi (110 kPa), and letting it bleed into space until after about 50 hours into the mission the atmosphere settled down to 5 psi (34.5 kPa) pure oxygen.

It took just 18 months and $410 million for 150,000 people working around the clock to incorporate 1,341 approved engineering changes into the spacecraft for the upcoming lunar missions. One of the contracting company directors made the observation that NASA's enormous demands for the Apollo program on the contractors and their staff left a lot of human suffering in its wake. Divorces, wrecked families, broken careers and sackings were rife among the company employees as they were caught up in the headlong rush to meet seemingly impossible specifications and deadlines.



Around the same time Honeysuckle Creek was planning its big official opening in March, 1967, the Director of Flight Crew Operations, Deke Slayton, was looking at his eighteen astronauts and assigned the prime and back up crews to the first three Apollo missions; Schirra, Eisle, and Cunningham to start the ball rolling with Apollo 7; McDivitt, Scott, and Schweickart to fly Apollo 8, the first manned Earth orbit Lunar Module mission; and Borman, Collins, and Anders for Apollo 9, at that time a high Earth orbit Lunar Module test. At this point he chose a new crew of Armstrong, Lovell, and Aldrin to back up the Apollo 9 team. However, this arrangement was not to last there was still a lot of music left to play......

Collins developed a bone spur in his neck vertebrae, and had to drop out of the Apollo 9 team for surgery, so Lovell left Armstrong's team to join Borman and Anders. Haise replaced Lovell in Armstrong's team, and Slayton allocated Stafford, Young, and Cernan to the Apollo 10 mission.

When it began to look like Apollo 8 was going to fly around the moon with no Lunar Module, Slayton decided that McDivitt's crew should move on to Apollo 9 as they had been training solidly with the Lunar Module for eighteen months he felt they were the best LM qualified team. So with their approval, he swapped the Apollo 8 and 9 crews around. This swap took the back up crews with them, which changed Conrad, Gordon, and Bean from the prime crew on Apollo 11 to Apollo 12, and Armstrong, Aldrin, and Haise took a step back to Apollo 11. Then when Collins arrived back on flight status after Apollo 8 looking for a flight, Slayton decided to change Haise for Collins, as Haise was not among the original 18 astronauts he had promised a lunar landing. So Haise missed the Apollo 11 flight, and had the distinction of checking out the spacecraft before launch for both the trail blazing Apollo 8 and 11 missions, and never did walk on the moon as he ended up in the illfated Apollo 13 mission.

That was how fate and the unpredictable game of musical chairs selected Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin for Apollo 11.


The Apollo 1 fire had stopped the Apollo Project dead in its tracks, but within three months the Russians had their turn. After the flight of Vostok 6, the Soviets began flight testing their new Soyuz spacecraft. The name Soyuz, the Russian word for "Union", was probably chosen for the docking capabilities of the spacecraft, as well as recognising the Union of Communist States.

The first manned Soyuz was launched on April 23, 1967, a threeman spacecraft only carrying Vladimir Komarov, the first cosmonaut to go into space twice. Soyuz 2 was supposed to follow the next day with three cosmonauts, Valery Bykovsky, Yevgeny Khrunov, and Alexei Yeliseyev. Khrunov and Yeliseyev were to space walk across to join Komarov and return to earth in Soyuz 1. An ambitious mission, perhaps under way before it was really ready to fly.

By the second orbit Komarov was already wading through a sea of troubles as one of the two solar panels failed to swing out which cut his main power in half, his prime radio transmitter failed, and lack of power affected his guidance systems. An angry Komarov radioed down: "Devil machine - nothing I lay my hands on works!" The Soviet news items on the mission dried up and an ominous silence followed.

With Soyuz 1 awash with problems, coupled with bad weather at the launch site, the flight of Soyuz 2 was cancelled. Then the automatic stabilising system went down as Komarov orbited the Earth out of reach of the Russian tracking stations, so when ground control established contact again after nine hours, it seemed the spacecraft and its occupant were doomed, unless the pilot could pull off a miracle. One report said officials rushed a surprised and shocked Valentina Komarov to the Mission Control Center for what must have been a traumatic last farewell to her husband over the radio link.

An American listening post in Turkey reported hearing serious problems with the spacecraft attitude control during the last part of the flight, with the Soviet mission control and Komarov trying desperately to prevent the capsule from rolling out of its reentry attitude.

After 26 hours in orbit, Komarov tried to align his spacecraft manually for his return to earth, and after two attempts, succeeded on the 18th orbit. Out of fuel and spinning like a top to try and maintain a stable attitude, the spacecraft plunged down into the atmosphere at the wrong angle. Vulnerable areas heated up and welded part of the cover of the parachute compartment. After two attempts to blow the cover off, the recovery parachutes did deploy but became entangled with the twisting spacecraft, and it plummeted 4.3 miles (6.9 km) into the hilly country outside the town of Orenburg at around 400 mph (644 kph), the landing rockets exploding on impact. Local farmers ran to the burning wreck and threw soil over it to put out the fire. It was an hour before they could dig into the smoking pile to find Komarov's body.

Komarov became the first traveller to be killed in space.

Now both the American and Russian lunar programs had drawn blood.


Who would recover from these fatal disasters first? At the time some thought that whoever moved first would probably be first to the moon. Actually America and Russia returned to manned flight within weeks of each other with Apollo 7 and Soyuz III.

While the Americans were still modifying their spacecraft, the Russians launched their Cosmos 186, an unmanned version of Soyuz, in six months. Three days later Cosmos 188 was accurately placed in a rendezvous orbit and within an hour these two spacecraft had completed the world's first automatic remote docking. Space watchers suspected this was a prelude to building a space station, confirmed by Soviet representatives announcing that this exercise was invaluable for not only assembling space stations, but the construction of interplanetary spaceships.

Hot on the heels of the Soviet recovery the Americans picked up their program for the moon landing by launching the first Saturn V rocket with a multiple test flight of all the stages of the vehicle. It all performed flawlessly, so now the Americans were up and running down the final leg of their track to the moon.



The Manned Space Flight Network ground tracking stations were a whole new concept for the Apollo missions, using a new combined signal called the Unified S Band system. During the Mercury and Gemini missions a flight control team from Cape Canaveral or Houston would conduct the mission from the station. As these missions were all Earth orbits, the tracking stations only had short glimpses of up to twelve minutes as the spacecraft raced past about 100 miles (161 km) overhead. The Lunar missions had daily passes as long as the moon was in view, and these were all run through communications links from Houston, the station becoming a relay point for the Mission Control Center. To provide 24 hour coverage of the moon, there were three major stations with 85 foot (26 metre) dishes spaced roughly 120 around the world; at Goldstone, in the Mojave Desert, California; Madrid, Spain; and Honeysuckle Creek in the mountains to the south west of Canberra, the Capital of Australia, and seat of Federal Government.



In 1966 Canberra was exploding out from the original city centre, with new suburbs growing up overnight. Large government departments were being moved to Canberra and people were flooding in from Melbourne and Sydney, looking for homes. Its population had grown from 28,000 in 1956 to over 80,000 in 1966. Impressive national buildings were going up around the shores of the new Lake Burley Griffin the National Library, the High Court, the National Art Gallery, and later the new Parliament House, and the Science Centre. It was a time of spectacular growth Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was regularly visiting Canberra to open another new edifice.

Founded on March 12, 1913, Canberra was planned as the Nation's capital from the very beginning. The main city planners, the National Capital Development Commission, were trying to stick to the concepts of American Walter Burley Griffin's prize winning design for the capital city. In the middle of the muted colour of the Australian bush, Canberra is a city glowing with imported spring flowering trees, and blazing autumn foliage. A big country town with the Tasman Sea not far away on one side, and the Snowy Mountains on the other, Canberra is a great place for young families to live in. Three American tracking stations for Earth orbit, deep space, and now the manned moon landing just added to the glamour of the city.

The Honeysuckle Creek station was built by the Australian Government and local contractors between February 1965 and December 1966 at a total cost of $A2 million in 1966 dollars. Operating costs were $A1,250,000 a year.

Operations Assistant Supervisor John Saxon: "When I first started at Honeysuckle Creek there were lots of packing cases around and the station carpenter, Irishman Paddy Sheehey, made workbenches, tables, chairs and so on out of these packing cases. The journey out there was a little bit of a surprise to me, I expected a paved road, but at that time the paving stopped at the Monaro Highway, long before Tharwa, it was dirt all the way to the station. The road up the hill was only a temporary road, very rough, very windy, and very boggy if it rained.

I remember we were asked if we could get some tracking experience on Lunar Orbiter, in orbit around the moon from the Deep Space Network it was a very good signal source for us to use for practice for an Apollo mission.

They sent us predicts (instructions to point the antenna) for a 30 foot (9 metre) station in the northern hemisphere, and we were a 85 foot (26 metre) site in the southern hemisphere, which, of course, were totally wrong, so we decided to go ahead and try to track this thing anyhow, and we thought the best way to do this was to look at the moon with human eyes. We didn't have a television camera set up on the antenna at the time, so we sent Ian Anderson up with a pair of binoculars, and he was sitting up in the antenna looking at the moon with these binoculars saying, 'Up a bit..... down a bit....', and I remember him saying, 'It's soo close it hurrts!' in his Scottish accent. That was the very first operation we did."

Originally managed by Standard Telephones & Cables Pty. Ltd. of Sydney, Honeysuckle Creek was officially opened by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Harold Holt, on the 17th of March, 1967. It was a colourful scene with military bands, marquees, tables loaded with good food, and lots of people to enjoy the picturesque bush setting. To add an authentic touch a Gemini spacecraft was on display. In attendance from NASA were Dr. Robert Seamans, Associate Administrator of NASA, Edmond Buckley, Director of the Office of Tracking and Data Acquisition, Tecwyn Roberts, Head of the Manned Flight Engineering Division, and Christopher Kraft Jr. Head of Flight Operations for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and the Managing Director of STC, Sir Samuel Jones.

John Saxon remembers that day: "I was told to stand by the Operations Console and given the nod that Harold Holt might want to talk to somebody in America, and we would demonstrate the NASA Communications network to him. The time came, and in wandered Harold Holt, and said, 'I'd like to talk to my old mate Hubert Humphrey, the Vice President.' I said 'Yes, sir, put on this headset,' and stuck a headset on his head, and told him how to press the talk button. I got onto the Goddard Voice Control, just outside Washington, and said, 'I'd like the White House,' and they said 'Yes, Sir,' the White House came on in seconds, and I said, 'I have the Prime Minister of Australia talking through the NASA Communications Network opening this American station in Australia, and he would like to talk to Hubert Humphrey.' They said, 'Oh, he's in a car somewhere, but no problem,' and there was Hubert Humphrey. I was pretty impressed by this, specially in 1967."

Hubert Humphrey congratulated Harold Holt on the dedication of Honeysuckle Creek and called it, "..another link in the long chain of cooperative efforts in space between the Commonwealth of Australia and the United States."



Astronauts and ground teams around the world began knuckling down to tough simulations to sharpen their skills for all the lunar activity to come. While the astronauts and operational teams were testing their abilities, the spacecraft were undergoing rigorous tests too. Continuous testing, simulations, and developing procedures night and day was every Apollo worker's daily grind. Lockheed Super Constellation aircraft were used to check out the tracking stations. One of them, NASA 422 called the Bataan, had flown General Douglas MacArthur around the Pacific after the Second World War.

Once, during the initial night testing of Honeysuckle Creek, Canberra residents flooded the switchboard with calls reporting strange lights and UFOs nobody knew what this strange light was, ranging backwards and forwards in the sky to the south of the city.

To begin the operational training for Apollo NASA sent George Harris and his simulation team to Australia to show the stations how run the missions and to look for any weaknesses in our procedures, people, or equipment. Carnarvon was already a seasoned station, but it was Honeysuckle Creek's first taste of what was in store with the manned space flight missions. NASA 420, one of the three Lockheed Super Constellation aircraft used by the Goddard Space Flight Centre for testing the tracking stations was temporarily based at Canberra and Perth airports and flew backwards and forwards over the stations during the day emulating a spacecraft, while a ground team observed the staff at work as they were confronted with cunningly devised problems introduced at critical places to test the operators' skills.

Simulation Team leader George Harris: "As far as the ground is concerned this aircraft is a spacecraft. It takes 6½ minutes to pass the field of vision of the tracking station and this is the time the spacecraft will take in Earth orbits."

After one intense period of training a startled Honeysuckle wife was woken up in the dead of night by her husband suddenly sitting up in bed, poking an imaginary button and calling out, "Decoms in lock!"

Saxon again: "They sent a full team of people to the station to simulate the astronauts in the spacecraft, to look over our shoulders as we did our job and to generally give us a real workover. Up until that point in time we had been fairly laid back, I suppose, casually getting ourselves up the curve, reading documents and looking at things in theory.

Things changed very rapidly from then onwards. The leader of this group from the Goddard Space Flight Center, who looked after the tracking network for Apollo, was a guy called George Harris. George is one of the greatest characters of the NASA world over the years, but he shook us up quite badly. We went through a couple of simulations, they were fairly good disasters, everybody thought it was quite amusing. After a couple of these aircraft tracks George called the entire station together, both the technical and non technical crews, in the canteen. I vividly remember the station director, Brian Lowe, sitting cross legged on one of the freezers, and George said to us, 'You guys are a bunch of shit!' That's exactly what he said.

We certainly sat up and took notice after that. He told us it was not a joke, this was really serious, we were supposed to be a closely knit team and everything was to go like clockwork on the voice loops. To be capable of doing this thing we had to face problems and failures and carry on tracking as though nothing had happened. Subsequent to that we had a lot of these simulations, we developed our own method of simulating the Apollo spacecraft, probably the best in the Network. We carried on our own 'in house' simulations. Sometimes I was the one on the simulation team giving the others a hard time, sometimes I was the one on the receiving end. Either way you were a ball of sweat all the way through the exercise."

Deputy Director Mike Dinn: "In 1969, after Apollo 11, I visited Houston and sat in on some of their flight simulations. They were training for launch, from minus three minutes to lift-off, going through the procedures many times, introducing one or more contingencies, with a debrief at the end of each run. We did this for eight hours a day for two weeks!

This brought home to me the depth and breadth of competence at Houston and I recognised we did not have the same at Honeysuckle. So when I returned home I set about trying to bring the same idea to Honeysuckle. NASA happened to be decommissioning one of the tracking ships, Coastal Sentry Quebec (CSQ), at Fremantle in Western Australia, so I went there and selected a number of the consoles. The concept of building a station simulation system seemed to be embraced by enthusiasm by everybody. Although I tried, but failed, to borrow some actual spacecraft equipment from Houston, we ended up with a very good system. Apart from lacking American accents it was very realistic for most of the station staff. I am convinced it contributed to the confidence we had in tackling missions, and I felt comfortable that we could cope with any emergency."

Bernard Smith, a USB engineer who helped develop the simulation system: "The simulation system was something that Honeysuckle alone had built up, no one else in the network had such a system. The people who flew the aircraft out and were involved with the checkout of the station were very interested to come out to Honeysuckle and see what we had built up. They were very impressed with the system we had."

During the simulations key operators were told they had a heart attack, and had to be given medical attention, while a trained replacement was expected to continue with no loss of performance. Critical messages were delayed until the last minute to test operators under stress conditions. Selected equipment was disabled without warning, and the station staff observed for their diligence in detecting the breakdown, then their ingenuity and speed in getting around the problem.

Author: "Once I remember standing by my equipment when one of the test observers came up to me and pointed to a printed circuit board. 'That board has failed go and get another one from the store,' he said as he produced a stopwatch, and the time to get a spare part from the store was recorded in his little book."

By the end of a week of these intensive, searching simulations we knew our equipment and procedures, including the emergency procedures, thoroughly. NASA could also gauge the efficiency of the stations. These simulations were conducted before every Apollo Mission to train the staff on new procedures, and hone the old.

Saxon: "I believe the simulations were the reason Apollo was so successful, particularly at Honeysuckle. If we hadn't had those simulations it would have been much more difficult to run the real missions. The real missions were an anticlimax after our simulations. We made them very realistic, except when we had Australians simulating astronauts walking on the moon. Somebody with a broad Australian accent talking about mission timeliness as if they were walking on the moon just did not gel at all.

Later, as we got better, we used to involve the outside world in our simulations, places like Sydney video. We actually managed to tie up most of the communications around the East coast of Australia when we had an internal simulation. Often, I think it was Channel 7, didn't always get their news at the right time because we had all the television feeds tied up and they had to delay the news items. I could never imagine something like that happening these days."

Tom Reid, Station Director of the Orroral Valley STADAN tracking station, took over command of Honeysuckle Creek in August, 1967: He explained: "It was felt that the Honeysuckle management up to that time were not proceeding fast enough to ensure that the station was going to be ready to support the upcoming manned Apollo Program so I was asked to go in as Director to speed up the process. As well as Honeysuckle Creek, an integral part of the setup was Tidbinbilla, Deep Space Station 42, where modifications were done to enable them to support the Apollo program when the so called "wing" was added."

At Honeysuckle Creek we had to absorb the shock of a new and quite different Station Director, immediately followed by another of the Goddard simulation team's exercises at the end of September, 1967, to give us more gruelling workouts.

Now events began to move swiftly. The end of the decade was rapidly approaching, and behind the impenetrable Iron Curtain the Russians still appeared to be a threat, their lunar program still planned for a 1969 landing. Von Braun admitted that one of the main reasons NASA was able to meet Kennedy's deadline was due to Dr. George Mueller, NASA's Associate Administrator for Manned Spaceflight, insisting on telescoping all the planned test flights to speed up the program. Originally ten trials of the Saturn V were planned before considering putting astronauts on the top, and all being well the lunar landing would occur on the 17th flight.

Even this original schedule was regarded as reckless by the conservative rocket scientists, used to taking one step at a time. In 1964 George Mueller tossed the existing plans overboard, introduced his concept of "allup testing" and had men flying around the moon on the third Saturn ever launched, and landing on the moon by the sixth!!



APOLLO 4. 9 November, 1967. Unmanned. First Saturn V Flight.


8 Hours 38 minutes.

2 Orbits.

Apogee 118.6 miles (191 km)

Perigee 113.7 miles (183 km)

Boosted to 10,700 miles (17,219 km)

At exactly 7:00 am on November 9, 1967, one day before Surveyor VI landed on the moon, the results of six years of intense work by von Braun and his team left the launch pad. Shock waves from the rocket shook trailers and rattled furniture in the brand new Launch Control Center. Plaster dust covered everything.

The gleaming Saturn V rocket heading for the heavens was the culmination of all the dreams of the space visionaries and pioneers throughout history. Apollo 4 was the first launch from the new Apollo Pad 39A, the first test of the Saturn V rocket, and the first trial of the integrity of the Command & Service Module and the heat shield. It put a record 124 tons (126,529 kg) into orbit. The CSM was kicked out to 10,700 miles (17,335 km), and its rockets fired to hurl itself back into the atmosphere at 24,800 mph (40,000 kph), the speed of a spacecraft returning from the moon.

Trevor Housley, the FPQ6 Radar Supervisor at Carnarvon: "They sent a guy out from the States to put this plotting board, the old plotting board from the Verlort radar, on our Q6 so he could sit there in real time and observe the angle of the spacecraft coming in. He was out there for months installing this plotboard, he got it going, trying to plot the boresite tower. Then they sent out some simulation tapes from America and all we saw on this plotboard was noise you know, the pen jumped all over the place and we thought what a crummy simulation, surely they can do better than that. We were expecting a nice smooth trace.

When the real thing happened it was exactly the same, there was just this noise all over the place, and somehow this guy was able to tell at what angle the spacecraft was coming in. We were amazed. We were also amazed how good the simulation was."

Landing only six miles from the target, the scorched Command Module was picked up by the USS Bennington to show that everything had worked perfectly.

Before Apollo 4, NASA was doubtful about getting to the moon before the end of the decade, Administrator Webb going so far as reluctantly announcing, "It's increasingly doubtful that an American or Russian will be on the moon this decade."

After Apollo 4 the goal to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade was suddenly alive again.


APOLLO 5. 22 January, 1968. Unmanned. Lunar Module only.


7 Hours 50 Minutes.

5 orbits.

Apogee 138 miles (222 km)

Perigee 100.6 miles (162 km)

Weight: 93,708 lb (42,506 kg)

After weeks of bad weather and launch delays, on January 22, 1968, the 180 foot (54.8 metre) tall Saturn 1B that was to have launched Gus Grissom and his crew, soared into the Florida sky with the new Lunar Module, minus its legs, nestling in the nose behind protective panels. Apollo 5 was to try the Lunar Module's rocket motors in space four hours after entering orbit. The computer started the descent engine, but engineers at Mission Control watched in disbelief as it shut down after only 4 seconds. Luckily it turned out to be a computer programming error.

Then the ascent stage was boosted away from the landing frame, and again the engineers watched in horror as the ascent stage went into a wild dance. However it was another computer program error, and on the sixth orbit the LM returned into the atmosphere in a blazing fireball, with everybody satisfied that the LM was now ready for work.


APOLLO 6. 4 April 1968. Unmanned. Second Saturn V Test Flight.

(AS-502/CSM-020) 9 Hours 57 Minutes.

Apogee: 226 miles (364 km)

Max Apogee: 13,831 miles (22,258 km)

Perigee: 112 miles (180 km)

Weight: 85,050 lb (38,579 kg)

Apollo 6 put the Saturn V launch vehicle through its paces on its second launch to prepare it for manned flight, with further tests of the navigation systems and engines, and a final test of the Command Module's heat shield. Although there were some engine and fuel leaking problems, the spacecraft was successfully put into Earth orbit, and reentered the atmosphere to land into the Pacific near the Hawaiian Islands to be picked up by the USS Okinawa. There were three major problems:

1. Two minutes and five seconds after launch the whole vehicle developed a lengthwise oscillation like a pogo stick, which if severe enough, could destroy it.

2. A faulty manufacturing process caused the protective panels of the LM housing to fall off.

3. The most serious flaw was the unreliability of the second and third stage's J2 rocket motors to burn and restart.

More than a thousand engineers and technicians ferreted out the causes of the problems from the miles of recorded data, as all the hardware was lost in space. Reliable solutions to all three problems were found.

The engine failures were a classic case of applied clever detective work on minimal clues. Under Paul Castenholz of Rocketdyne, the engineering team developed a reference pattern of the engine failures from the telemetry data and tried to duplicate failures to fit this pattern. They simulated every conceivable way to make these engines fail, but nothing would fit the reference pattern until they realised that the only thing they had not tried was the space environment, so they set up a test in a vacuum. Success - it failed! In two minutes eight liquid-hydrogen ASI fuel lines all failed at a bellows section. At last the pattern matched. All this testing took a whole month, but without computer analysis it would have taken a lot longer.

NASA now felt confident the big Apollo Saturn V rocket was ready to fly man.

With NASA enjoying success following success, the speed of progress was quite unprecedented. As the Lunar Module development was left behind and with more delays expected, the spacecraft program manager, George Low, proposed a bold plan to go to the moon without it. This would at least make sure of a lunar flight before the end of the decade, and more important, beat the Russians to the moon. He tried bouncing the idea off the NASA hierarchy. When General Sam Phillips presented the proposal to acting Administrator Paine in Webb's temporary absence, Paine reminded Phillips that the program had fallen behind schedule, three engines had failed, they had not flown a manned Apollo mission yet, and there was a problem with the launch vehicle pogoing, a lengthwise oscillation like a pogo stick. "Are you really ready to go to the moon so soon?" Paine queried.

Webb was contacted in Vienna by phone and exploded on hearing the proposal, but Phillips and Low eventually brought him back to earth, and he agreed to think about the idea and it was generally decided to leave the final decision until after the Apollo 7 mission.



APOLLO 7. 11 October 1968 - Wally Schirra.

(AS-205/CSM-101) 22 October 1968. Donn Eisele.

Walter Cunningham.

260 hours 8 minutes 45 seconds.

10 Days 20 Hours 9 Minutes

163 Earth Orbits.

Apogee 177 miles (285 km)

Perigee: 142 miles (229 km)

Spacecraft Weight: 36,438 lb (16,528 Kg)

The first three astronauts to ride a Saturn rocket into space were Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham. It was also the first manned flight after Apollo 1's fatal fire. Before the flight Schirra said: "We've had a goal that is a rather hard one to achieve, particularly one that we have had to follow when we lost three of our compatriots, and we don't want to make any mistakes that might cause something like that to happen again. We have not been the 'kid around' types that we might have been in the past; we're much more serious about it, because this is a much more complicated machine and there are many, many more people involved in it. I think you will find that you will see a good performance out of this total crew and we have tried very hard to make this machine work just the way it should."

On October 11, 1968, the Saturn 1B rocket rose into space to begin a successful flight, so successful that General Sam Phillips announced after the mission, "We achieved 101% of our objectives."

Eighty minutes after Apollo 7 left the pad, the unthinkable happened disaster struck at the very core of the brain controlling the mission a power failure plunged the Mission Control Center in Houston into semidarkness. The Flight Controllers stared helplessly at their black screens for two minutes, with only the dull glow of emergency lights around the room for their eyes to focus on. Outside the building, the mission happily pressed on until Houston recovered, and communications were restored.

The Commander, Wally Schirra, is the only NASA astronaut to fly all three programs, Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. True to his style, to concentrate on the flight operations and engineering, he cut as many experiments out of the mission as possible and when he found there were to be television cameras on board the spacecraft he tried to stop the installation of the equipment, as he felt television was just more unnecessary equipment to go wrong, but NASA insisted and later there were a few irritable exchanges between crew and the ground. Once, when Schirra refused to switch the television on Deke Slayton, the astronauts' chief, came on the link to the spacecraft:

Slayton: "Apollo 7, this is Capcom Number 1."

Schirra: "Roger."

Slayton: "All we have agreed to do on this is flip it. Apollo 7, all we have agreed to do on this particular pass is to flip, flip the switch on. No other activity associated with TV. I think we are still obligated to do that."

Schirra: "We do not have the equipment out, we have not had an opportunity to follow setting, we have not eaten at this point, I still have a cold, I refuse to foul up our time lines this way."

Having already inferred this would be his last mission, and nursing a head cold, Schirra commanded the mission from the spacecraft, and refused instructions from the ground if it didn't suit him. Never had the spacecraft crew spoken to the ground controllers like this before, and for most of the mission it seemed war between the two, right to the end when Houston insisted the crew follow mission rules and splashdown with their helmets on. Schirra refused as the space doctors were worried that with their colds the astronauts might suffer ear damage when they pressurised back to the earth's atmosphere, so they told the astronauts to hold their noses, close their mouths and try to blow through their Eustachian tubes to keep the pressure in their middle ears in balance with the increasing air pressure. As they couldn't hold their noses with their helmets on, they landed without them and it worked fine.

The main objectives of this mission were to check the new Apollo systems to confirm the Command and Service Modules were spaceworthy, to rendezvous with the Saturn 4B booster, and to restart the SPS rocket motor a number of times in space. The reliability of this motor was crucial to put the spacecraft in and out of Lunar orbit. It was restarted successfully eight times.

After splashdown on October 22, 230 miles (370 km) south of Bermuda, there was a moment of anxiety when the capsule radio fell silent, but it was merely the rain squalls and choppy waves had capsized the spacecraft, putting the antennas were under water. Helicopters from the carrier USS Essex picked the signals up as soon as the spacecraft flopped over right way up.

Get me that Flight Controller.....!!"

On October 7, 1968, just before Apollo 8 was to go to the moon, James Webb, the fast talking Administrator of NASA, resigned on his 62nd birthday, addressing the Senate Space Committee with: "Last month I pointed out to the President that NASA has, with the recent induction of a number of experienced executives, the strongest and most capable organisation it has had in its ten year history. I told him it was fully capable of functioning at peak efficiency without me."

With his strong political connections and aggressive attitude, Webb had set a strong solid base for NASA to work from. Unfortunately, NASA never recovered the same momentum he generated with his clear cut goals of landing on the moon, and exploring the solar system. His deputy since the beginning of the year, Dr. Thomas O. Paine, took over the reins, and steered NASA through the Apollo 11 moon landing mission.



Aware of reports of the Russian activity, the NASA hierarchy looked at George Low's lunar mission proposal again, and after a bit of further convincing, tentatively agreed to consider a lunar mission. During a press conference by the Director of the Apollo Program, General Sam Phillips on August 19, a circumlunar flight was listed as an option for the Apollo 8 mission, but the basic mission was still expected to be Earth orbit. However, by November 11 all agreed that Apollo 8 should go to the moon, and the message was laid on Lyndon Johnson's desk as he was handing over the Presidency to Richard Nixon.

Lovell and Borman were only too happy to go off to the moon after living in Earth orbit with each other for a record 14 days in the claustrophobic Gemini VII, the thought of repeating it all again had no appeal at all.

Excitement mounted when NASA's new Administrator Tom Paine announced on November 12: "After careful and thorough examination of all the systems and risks involved we have concluded that we are now ready to fly the most advanced mission for our Apollo 8 launch in December, the orbit around the moon."

Paine's announcement was backed up by President Johnson with a message to the astronauts saying: "I am confident that the world's finest equipment will strive to match the courage of our astronauts. If it does that, a successful mission is assured."



APOLLO 8. 21 December 1968 - Frank Borman.

(AS-503/CSM-103) 27 December 1968. James Lovell.

William Anders.

147 hours 1 minute

6 Days 3 hours 1 minute

10 Lunar orbits in

20 Hours 7 Minutes

Spacecraft Weight: 87,382 lb (39,636 kg)

The first of the manned lunar missions, Apollo 8 was regarded by many as being as significant as Apollo 11, when everything had been done except an actual landing. Head of Flight Operations Chris Kraft commented: "From Apollo 8 we really knew what we were doing. It was the boldest decision we made in the whole space program.... period!"

Author: "At the start of the mission I remember feeling more apprehensive, but very excited, about this mission than any other, including Apollo 11, because it was the first time we were going to actually leave the Earth, away from being able to return quickly to safety in an emergency. I felt quite confident about Apollo 11 because Apollos' 8 and 10 had been so successful."

There were so many first's for Apollo 8. The spotlight swung to the three big tracking stations as it was the first time the large antenna was really needed. It was the first time pilots had experienced the full 7.5 million lb thrust of the big Saturn V, the first time man had left the planet to head into space, the first time anyone saw the whole Earth suspended in space, or could cover the whole Earth with their hand, the first time humans had not experienced a night with sunrises and sunsets, the first time to orbit the moon, the first time men had been occulted, first to see the backside of the moon, first to see Earth rise at the moon, and first reentry from the moon. Never had anybody travelled so far and so fast. As with everything else in Apollo, the navigational accuracy required for a successful mission was mind boggling. As with nearly everything else in Apollo, the layperson could merely marvel and trust in the outstanding abilities of the technocrats.

For a lunar flight the navigation had to take into account all the moving bodies involved an Earth travelling at 1,000 mph (1,609 km) as it rotated, the spacecraft leaving the Earth at 25,000 mph (4,0232 kph), travelling to the moon 234,100 miles (376,737 km) away, taking into account the effect of the interacting gravity fields along the way, and arrive exactly 80 miles (128.7 km) ahead of the moon, which itself is travelling at 2,000 mph (3,219 kph) relative to the Earth. One NASA engineer said it was, " running in front of a speeding locomotive close enough to get a paint sample off its front without getting hurt."

It took 8 years to get Apollo 8 ready for launching. Parts came from all over the country the first stage came from Louisiana, the second and third stages from California, after testing in Alabama. Guidance and navigation equipment came from Wisconsin to be checked in Massachusetts, while the internal systems came from Florida and New Hampshire.


At 7:51 am, soon after a pink dawn coloured the eastern horizon on December 21,1968, Apollo 8 lifted from pad 39A at Cape Canaveral and entered Earth orbit. When the big moment came to fire the rocket motor over Hawaii to leave the Earth, a hush fell over Mission Control, and indeed, all the people involved in the mission grew a little tense. Sitting at the console, Capcom Michael Collins felt his "Apollo 8 - you're Go for TLI (Translunar Injection)" was quite an inadequate statement for such a momentous occasion. This was the first time that humans were not going to go in circles around the Earth, but were actually going to leave the Earth and commit themselves to a voyage of 234,100 miles (376,737 km) out into real space, leaving the safety of mother Earth and enter another gravity field. Would they encounter something out there that had not been taken into account? Something life threatening? If anything went wrong, it was a long way back home; there were no rescue facilities out there, as Lovell so graphically found out later in Apollo 13. We all felt this was a moment of special significance.


At this point lets clear up a point of confusion that sometimes occurs the official difference between Insertion and Injection. A spacecraft is inserted into an Earth parking orbit from a launch trajectory, then when ready to leave the Earth the spacecraft is injected into a lunar trajectory if going to the moon.


As Apollo 8 raced towards the moon, it wasn't long before Conrad's Gemini XI record height of 850 miles (1,368 km) above the Earth was broken, Borman called down: "Tell Conrad his record's broken."

The three astronauts gazed spellbound out their windows, fascinated by the sight of the Earth shrinking away, shrinking away to a brilliant, glowing ball suspended in the vast velvet blackness of space. The first humans to experience leaving the Earth and see their home planet floating in space.

Lovell: "Boy, it's really hard to describe what this Earth looks like. I'm looking out my centre window, which is a round window, and the window is bigger than the Earth is right now. We can clearly see the terminator. I can see most of South America, all the way up through Central America, Yucatan, and the peninsula of Florida. There's a big swirling motion off the coast, and going over to the east, I can still see West Africa. Tell the people in Tierra del Fuego to put on their raincoats its looks like a storm down there."

Collins: "Rog. Will do."

Houston: "Apollo 8, Houston through Honeysuckle."

Anders: "Roger, Houston through Honeysuckle. Read you loud and clear."

Houston: "Okay. Good morning."

Anders: "Good morning. You got over to Australia pretty fast!"

Houston: "Did our station call wake you up?"

Anders: "Man, I've been all eyeballs and elbows up here for the last several hours."

Houston: "I bet."

Once on their way to the moon, the first moment of anxiety was Borman getting sick with a mild dose of influenza, and to a lesser degree, Lovell and Anders. This was not radioed back on the public channels, but passed to the medical flight controllers via a voice tape dumped through the tracking stations. Dr. Charles Berry, the astronauts' long standing physician, considered aborting the mission at one stage, but when Borman announced he was better after taking the prescribed antidiarrhoea (Lomotil) and antinausea (Marezine) pills, the crisis passed.

"Are you gunna sit there and whinge for the whole trip, Borman?!!"

With three days to go before reaching the moon, the astronauts settled down to a quiet ride, adding some interest to the trip with a television show back to Earth on December 22 at 3 pm, 138,000 miles (222,083 km) from Earth.

After the awesome experience of watching their home planet shrinking to a glowing ball behind them, they looked forward to the moon looming larger and larger up ahead, but they were all disappointed by their view of the moon being washed out in the glare from the sun behind it. They never really saw their destination, the moon, on the way out. The astronauts had a limited awareness of the mission's progress, relying on the vast resources of Mission Control and the tracking network to pinpoint their position.

As the spacecraft approached the moon the astronauts and flight controllers grew quiet, trading essential information only. A decision had to be made whether to go into lunar orbit, or simply whip around the back of the moon and head safely back to Earth. The spectre of being trapped in orbit around the moon with their lives measured by the amount of oxygen remaining, was at the back of everyone's' mind.

Then, from across the void, Jerry Carr at the console in Houston announced the decision: "This is Houston at 68 hours and 4 minutes. You are go for LOI." (LOI = Lunar Orbit Insertion.)

Borman replied: "Okay. Apollo 8 is go."

"You are riding the best bird we can find." Carr cheerfully tried to hide the anxiety in the air, "We'll see you on the other side. One minute until LOS. All systems are go. Safe journey, guys." (LOS = Loss Of Signal behind the moon.)

"Thanks a lot, troops," Anders responded.

"We'll see you on the other side," added Lovell.

At 4:59 pm on Christmas Eve Apollo 8 slipped behind the moon's rim and the communication channels fell silent. While an expectant Earth waited, the three astronauts felt suspended in a black void, travelling upside down and backwards, only aware that the blackest of black surface of the night side of the moon beside them was blotting out the stars. Then an amazing panorama of sunlit peaks of mountains, then tops of craters and mounds poked up through the black velvet carpet below.

"Oh, my God...." Anders exclaimed, spellbound.

"What's wrong?" Borman prepared himself for a problem.

"Just look at that!" Anders couldn't take his eyes off the scene as the sunlight spread over crevasses, craters, rilles and barren mountains that appeared in their windows as the spacecraft crossed the terminator, the division between night and day. It was an alien, hostile land that no human had ever seen before, breathtakingly clear and stark with no atmosphere to blur the details. As they sped around the back they entered a moonscape bathed in brilliant white sunlight, covered with craters and sterile mountains. Borman busied himself with the upcoming burn.

The Service Module rocket, or SPS motor, fired for the scheduled four minutes right on time, and now they were committed to lunar orbit, first going into a 60 by 168.5 mile (96.5 km by 271 km) lunar orbit, then a later burn put them in a circular 60 mile high (96.5 km) orbit. "Longest four minutes I ever spent," murmured Lovell. Borman's heartbeat jumped to 130 beats per minute. If the rocket motor's first burn to put the spacecraft into lunar orbit had misfired they would have crashed onto the moon's surface, or skipped off into an endless solar orbit.

Honeysuckle Creek was tracking the trailing edge of the moon, pinpointing the spot where Apollo 8 should emerge. For once the station operators were able to see their target on the antenna television, as the moon showed up clearly on the monitor. The cross hair on the screen was aimed right on the edge of the crescent.........steady as a rock, waiting. The receiver operators were anxiously clamped to their controls watching the noise from the receivers, spring loaded to grab the first signs of a signal on their displays.

Suddenly there it was the receivers locked up, and signals flooded through the station equipment, filling all the meters and dials with figures. Houston received the output from Honeysuckle Creek and a jubilant public affairs announcement said, "We've acquired a signal but no voice contact yet. We are looking at engine data and it looks good. We got it! We've got it! Apollo 8 is in lunar orbit."

Alan Foster, on the receivers at Honeysuckle, tells us: "I just made a normal acquisition as they came over the lunar horizon it was a good signal, clean and sharp, no fading at all, one of the easiest acquisitions I had ever done because there was no antenna searching around, we could see the crescent moon. I was relieved I can tell you. I have always remembered Network saying on the loop, 'That was a beautiful acquisition, Honeysuckle.'"

Operations Supervisor Saxon: "Because we weren't tracking the Lunar Module we had all our equipment configured onto the Command Module. There was a planned mode and an unplanned, or back up mode. We decided we should cover the back up mode just as carefully as the prime mode. Unfortunately there were so many ways to configure this we ended up locking up all the telemetry and sending it back to Houston all right but there was a degree of confusion about where the voice was actually coming from. I remember hearing the public affairs loop saying we have data but no voice, and here I was frantically pushing buttons trying to find where they had put this voice, and Kevin Gallegos at the demodulators was pushing buttons as well, and no doubt Houston was also pushing buttons. I had my fingers poised ready to call the astronauts and tell them that we did have communications with Houston, but somehow we can't get you through. We managed to sort it out in the end I was very close to being the first guy to speak to someone in Lunar orbit!"

Houston: "Apollo 8. ...... Apollo 8......"

Lovell: "Go ahead Houston. This is Apollo 8. Burn complete. Our orbit is 169.1 by 60.5 (Miles)."

Houston: "Roger, Apollo 8. 169.1 by 60.5. Good to hear your voice."

Lovell's prosaic voice came down the channels from the moon, through Honeysuckle Creek, and flashed over the Pacific to Houston. In the flight operations room at Houston the relief brought on wild cheering, prompting the duty Flight Director Glynn Lunney to say, "I'm sure it can be described as one of the happiest Christmas Eve's just about anyone there had seen."

Lovell commented on his impression of the moon's other side: "The backside looks like a sand pile my kids have been playing in for a long time. It's all beat up with no definition. Just a lot of bumps and holes."

Anders view of the back was: "It looks like a whitish gray, like dirty beach sand with lots of footprints in it. Some of these craters look like pick axes striking concrete, creating a lot of fine haze dust."

As Apollo 8 circled the moon they took hundreds of photographs, endless measurements and observations, and related their views back to Houston. As they came around the moon for the fourth time, watching the drab grey lunar surface passing by underneath, they were suddenly startled by the sight of the glowing blue and white sphere of the Earth rising over the lunar horizon.

"The Earth's coming that pretty!" Anders stared at the sight, pointing his camera at it.

"Hey! Don't take that it's not scheduled," Borman ordered.

"Hand me that roll of colour quick, would you!" Anders called to Lovell. He wasn't going to miss this picture of a lifetime for anybody. Anders commented: "How finite the Earth looks. Unlike photographs people see, there's no frame around it. It's hanging there, the only colour in the black vastness of space, like a dustmote in infinity."

They all paused and gazed spellbound; the first humans to witness earthrise at the moon. The sight of this single orb of rich colour stirred deep emotions. Sent on a mission to study the moon, the three astronauts found the most profound discovery of the trip was the reassuring existence of their own planet. Borman commented later: "It's a view I will take with me to the grave - that to me was the highlight of the flight."

Apollo 8 dramatically changed the dimension of the word "home". Originally the word meant the hearth and the house one was brought up in, then as people moved further afield it expanded to mean the town, then the country one came from. Looking from the moon back to the Earth suspended in the absolute black, infinite void of space, the astronauts now saw the whole planet Earth as "home". In fact, a running joke among the Apollo 8 crew was that looking at the Earth from space the question arises, "Is it inhabited? Is there life on Earth?"

They studied Apollo landing sites chosen from the Lunar Orbiter photographs, finding some quite unsuitable. Ground controllers picked up a wiggle in the orbit of the spacecraft, which indicated there were gravity changes suspected to come from MASCONS, or "mass concentrations" under the surface of the moon (For an explanation of MASCONS refer to Appendix 2). These gravity changes affected the Lunar Module coming in to land, so had to be taken into account when planning a descent to the surface.

Anders was mainly responsible for the photography, using two 70mm Hasselblad cameras with 80 mm lenses, and a special Air Force 250 mm telephoto lens. He also had a 16mm Maurer motion picture camera.

Houston: "What does the old moon look like from 60 miles?"

Borman: "The moon is a different thing to each one of us. I know my own impression is that it is a vast, lonely, forbidding type existence, a great expanse of nothing that looks rather like clouds and clouds of pumice stone ...."

Lovell: "The vast loneliness up here at the moon is awe inspiring, and it makes you realise what you have back on Earth. The Earth from here is a grand oasis in the vastness of space."

Anders: "I think the thing that impressed me the most was the lunar sunrises and sunsets. These in particular bring out the stark nature of the terrain....the sky up here is also a rather forbidding, foreboding expanse of blackness..."

Impressed with the accuracy of Houston's prediction of the signal being cut off by the edge of the moon as they went behind it they checked:

Anders: "Houston, for your information, we lost radio contact at the exact second you predicted."

Houston: "Roger, we concur."

Anders; "Are you sure you didn't turn off the transmitters at that time?"

Houston: "Honest Injun', we didn't."

They saw no colours on the moon, only a marbling of black, white and various shades of grey. There were endless craters in a land of dirty looking beach sand or what looked like plaster of Paris. It was desolate and forbidding. An estimated half billion people shared a black and white television show of the moonscapes the astronauts were seeing.

NASA officials were rather pleased that some hard, persistent critics of their sending manned spacecraft to the moon complimented the Apollo 8 crew on their lucid and accurate descriptions. John Dietrich, a NASA geology scientist said: "They have first of all demonstrated their ability to observe from the spacecraft to a degree that I think surprised most of us. It was most encouraging for those of us in the science support area."

By the sixth orbit the crew were so weary Borman called Houston with:

"I'm going to scrub all the other experiments, we're getting too tired."

Ten minutes later he reported that Lovell was already asleep and snoring.

"Yeah, we can hear him down here," Houston replied.

Houston commented, "There's a beautiful moon out there tonight," to which Borman replied, "Now, we were just saying that there's a beautiful Earth out there!"

This impromptu poem was read up to the Apollo 8 crew from Houston:

"T'was the night before Christmas, and way out in space

The Apollo 8 crew had just won the moon race;

The headsets were hung by the consoles with care,

In hopes that Chris Kraft soon would be there;

Frank Borman was nestled all snug in his bed,

While visions of REFSMATS danced in his head;

And Anders in his couch, and Jim Lovell in the bay,

Were racking their brains over a computer display....

When out of the DSKY there arose such a clatter,

Frank sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the sextant he flew like a flash,

To make sure they weren't going to crash.

The light on the breast of the moon's jagged crust

Gave a lustre of green cheese to the gray lunar dust.

When what to his wondering eyes should appear

But a Burma shave sign saying: 'Kilroy was here!'

But Frank was no fool, he knew pretty quick

That they had been first.....this must be a trick.

More rapid than rockets his curses they came,

He turned to his crewmen and called them a name;

"Now Lovell! Now Anders! Now you don't think I'd fall

For that old joke you've written up on the wall!"

They spoke not a word, but were grinning like elves,

And laughed at their joke in spite of themselves.

Frank sprang to his couch, to the ship gave a thrust,

And away they all flew past the grey lunar dust.

But we heard them exclaim, ere they flew 'round the moon:

'Merry Christmas to Earth; We'll be back there real soon!'"

They celebrated Christmas by reading the bible, each taking turns at reading the first chapter of Genesis.

Anders began: "We are now approaching the lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.....

''In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth ......'"

Borman concluded the broadcast with: "......and from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you all of you on the good Earth."

Millions of earthlings gathered around their cheerfully lit Christmas trees with the warmth and comforts of home around them, listened in wonder to this ethereal reading from above that hostile, forbidding lunar surface; so far away in space, so far away from the cosy colours and feelings of home, however humble.

Again mission followers experienced an apprehensive moment; waiting to see if the astronauts would have a successful burn to bring them back home. The life and death SPS (Service Propulsion System) motor was designed to be as simple and reliable as possible. It was either on or off. When on, two chemicals ignited on contact and burned full bore, with no regulating controls. The engine had been tested over 5 years and tried 3,200 times without a single failure. A failure would leave them trapped in lunar orbit. As Collins once expressed it: "Swallow the frights one at a time as they appear in the Flight Plan."

Even though it was more than half an hour into Christmas Day, no greetings were passed between the flight controllers in the Mission Control Center at Houston until Apollo 8 was safely on its way home. After 20 hours and 7 minutes in orbit, the rocket engine fired at 1.15 am on Christmas Day, and Apollo 8 aimed for the tiny 26 mile (42 km) wide door into the Earth's atmosphere. As Apollo 8 emerged from behind the moon Lovell announced: "Roger. Please be informed there is a Santa Claus."

Marilyn Lovell wore a new mink coat that morning, a Christmas present from her husband. "It came from the man in the moon!" she told her friends.

After an uneventful return trip listening to music sent up from Houston and putting on two television shows, Apollo 8 arrived back at the Earth on December 27, with rapidly increasing speed until it dipped into the atmosphere above Tokyo at a speed of 24,629 mph (39,635 kph). For the technically minded, the spacecraft guidance system had to aim the Command Module to enter a corridor 26 miles (42 km) wide from the point of the last midcourse correction 167,000 miles (268,753 km) from Earth at an angle of 6.5 from the local horizontal, within plus or minus 1.

The resulting fireball 5 miles (8 km) wide, and 100 miles (160.9 km) long was seen by a Pan American jet airliner flying over the Pacific to Sydney. The Command Module skipped out briefly before entering the atmosphere again for the plunge to the dark Pacific Ocean, far below.

At 24,000 feet (7,315 metres) the drogue parachutes automatically ejected and slowed the spacecraft down to 140 mph (225 kph) for the 83 foot (25 metre) diameter orange and white parachutes to take over at 10,000 feet (3,048 metres) to drop Apollo 8 in the Pacific Ocean in the predawn darkness 1,000 miles (1,609 km) south west of Hawaii at 11:51 am spacecraft time, or 4:51 am local time. The carrier Yorktown's Sikorsky helicopters only had to fly just under 4 miles (6.4 km) to recover the astronauts and their spacecraft.

The first Apollo mission to the moon was a triumph for the navigation systems. Launch was 0.6 seconds late, lunar arrival was 0.5 mile (0.8 km) off target, and the spacecraft landed a mere 4 miles (6.4 km) from the carrier USS Yorktown.

Saxon: "We were incredibly lucky at Honeysuckle that out of all the Apollo missions we had the prime role so many times, at so many new, critical and interesting times. In Apollo 8 we were the prime station in view when they first disappeared behind the moon, and we were the prime station when they appeared from behind the moon. We were also the prime station for the return to Earth burn. We were also the prime station when they entered the Earth's atmosphere at those incredibly high speeds."

The American Ambassador in Canberra gave the tracking station personnel and their families a special late Christmas party at the Embassy to make up for a disrupted festive season.

By rights the names of Borman, Lovell, and Anders should go down in the history books with Magellan, Cook, Amundsen and the Apollo 11 crew, as they were the first to leave the gravity of Earth and arrive at another celestial body, the moon.

Following the successful Apollo 8 flight rumours began to fly around that these three would be chosen for the first lunar landing, but on January 6, 1969, Deke Slayton called the back up crew for Apollo 8, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins into his office and said to them, "You're it, guys. You've got the Apollo 11 flight, and that means you get first crack at landing on the moon. That is, of course, if we pull off successful missions with 9 and 10." On January 8, 1969, the names of the crew of Apollo 11 were announced to the public.

Following on from the Gemini procedures, where the pilot climbed out to walk in space, it had originally been planned for Buzz Aldrin to be first to step out on the moon. However when it was actually tried out in a mock up they found that Aldrin had to climb over Armstrong to get to the hatch and their bulky spacesuits and back packs damaged the LM, so it was decided that Armstrong would climb out first. Also Armstrong had joined the space program before Aldrin so had seniority, to which Slayton added: "Secondly, just on a pure protocol basis I figured the Commander ought to be the first guy out."

Did Armstrong pull any strings?

"Absolutely not," said Slayton.

"I was never asked my opinion," said Armstrong.

"It was fine with me if it was to be Neil," said Aldrin at the time.


APOLLO 9. 3 March 1969 - GUMDROP.

(AS-504/CSM-104/LM-3) 13 March 1969. SPIDER.

David Scott

James McDivitt

Rusty Schweickart

241 Hours 0 minutes 53 Seconds

10 Days 1 Hour 1 Minute

151 Earth Orbits

Spacecraft Weight: 113,878 lb (51,655 kg)

Apollo 9 was the first time that the whole Saturn vehicle was to fly complete, so all the lunar manoeuvres could be rehearsed with the safety of Earth at hand. The crew of Apollo 9 worked so hard for so long to meet their launch date, they all got upper respiratory infections, and the launch had to be delayed to March 3, 1969.

Once in orbit the Command Module had to turn around to pull the LM out of its "garage," and head to head the two spacecraft tested the bond between them like a dog shaking a bone in its teeth. After various tests, it wasn't until the third day in space that Rusty Schwieckart first entered the LM at 7:27 am to begin preparing for its first free flight.

Schweickart's friends called him "Rusty" because of the hue of his hair, but on this mission he was code named Red Rover for his spacewalk. On the fourth day he tried out the new spacesuit by climbing out onto a small platform while above the Pacific Ocean, and slipped his boots into gold painted restraints. Looking down he exclaimed, "Boy, oh boy what a view!" Unlike all previous spacewalks, Schwieckart was quite independent of the spacecraft, relying on his backpack to supply all his creature requirements.

The next day Spider and Gumdrop separated by 100 miles (161 km) and over six hours rehearsed the landing and launch sequences, and rendezvous and docking procedures to be performed by the upcoming lunar landing missions. It was the first time that astronauts had flown a spacecraft that could not return to Earth they had to return to Gumdrop to get back home. Scott welcomed them back with, "You're the biggest, friendliest, funniest looking Spider I've ever seen." When the buzzer sounded to indicate the two spacecraft were docked safely, McDivitt sighed with relief, "Wow! I haven't heard a sound that good for a long time."

Don Gray, then Station Director at Tidbinbilla: "The Apollo 9 mission had been planned for the Australian end that Honeysuckle Creek would track the Command Module and Tidbinbilla the Lunar Module. There was a problem from Tidbinbilla's point of view, its antenna was much slower than Honeysuckle's as it was a deep space station, most of its life only needing to move at sidereal rates. But there came a period where there was a requirement for both the Command Module and Lunar Module to be tracked while they were separated, and in particular they needed to get commands into the Lunar Module. Honeysuckle Creek's antenna couldn't see both spacecraft at the same time and the Tidbinbilla antenna wasn't capable of following either of them at the high speeds in Earth orbit.

We sat down at Tidbinbilla one of the things we had on our antenna was an acquisition antenna with a very much wider beamwidth than the main dish, we also had a pretty good high powered transmitter and so we came up with a scheme and put it to NASA that we would use that acquisition antenna with its very wide beamwidth we would drive the antenna under computer control from horizon to horizon at its maximum possible rates across the sky we would catch the Lunar Module in the leading edge of the antenna beam the spacecraft would fly through the antenna beamwidth and out the other side. The Lunar Module would be in the antenna beam long enough for the required commands to be blasted in. NASA accepted that as the operational procedure and that, in fact, was one of the best things we ever did we knew our equipment well enough in Australia to be able to make those proposals to NASA, and they trusted us well enough to accept our word for it mind you, they did send an aeroplane out here and check it out for hours on end to see that we could do it."

Apollo 9 splashed down in the Atlantic at noon on March 13, to be recovered from the ocean by the USS Guadalcanal, and the mission was declared a success. The way was now clear for the final assault on the moon, providing the Apollo 10 dress rehearsel did not spring any surprises.


APOLLO 10. 18 May 1969 - CHARLIE BROWN

(AS-505/CSM-106/LM-4) 26 May 1969. SNOOPY

Tom Stafford

Eugene Cernan

John Young

192 Hours 3 minutes 25 seconds

8 days 0 Hours 3 Minutes

31 Lunar Orbits in

2 Days 13 Hours 41 Minutes

Spacecraft Weight: 113,878 lb (51,655 kg)

Cernan: "For names we came up with something people could relate to, particularly kids. Everybody knew Snoopy and Charlie Brown, they were characters that both young and old knew. Maybe we were a product of the times they were very popular characters, not very sophisticated names as you saw later in Apollo 17. I don't remember who came up with it, maybe it was John Young, maybe myself maybe both of us. Snoopy was appropriate because it was going to do a lot of snooping around the surface of the moon. It humanised the space program the technology was so far above everybody. We got lots of letters on Snoopy and Charlie Brown."

Under normal circumstances the crew of Apollo 10 would appear to be the team to land, but there were a number of reasons to make it the penultimate mission. Not enough was known about the moon's environment for some of the manoeuvres, for example there were gravity peaks caused by heavy material under the moon's surface called Mascons, which affected a spacecraft's flight path; the lunar landing computer software wasn't quite ready; and the Lunar Module was a shade overweight which may have caused problems lifting off the lunar surface. So it was planned that the Apollo 10 Lunar Module would fly within 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) of the lunar surface, and sink into oblivion instead of celebrated world history.

At 12:45 pm USEST on May 18, Apollo 10 left Cape Canaveral and headed for the moon on the second earth orbit. During the trans lunar injection burn the astronauts were suddenly shuddering to vibrations from the booster rocket pressure relief valves, and as their vision began to blur they all feared the mission was going to end before they had left the Earth. Stafford's fingers reluctantly curled around the abort handle as he called Houston: "Okay, we are getting a little bit of high frequency vibrations in the cabin." After five minutes of suspense the burn ended on time and they were safely on their way to the moon, later trying out the first colour television camera to be used on a lunar flight. They went behind the moon at 4:45 pm on May 21, to emerge on the other side full of the exciting views of the moon they were seeing:

Apollo 10: "Houston, Ten."

Houston: "Go ahead, Ten."

Apollo 10: "It's amazing what you can see with earthshine on the surface of the moon it seems to be very well lit from our altitude here. The moon past the terminator is totally dark as long as we are in sunlight, but the minute we go out of the sunlight into darkness ourselves, the moon then glows right at us."

Cernan: "The LM thrusters stick out like a sore thumb in earthshine, but they don't keep you from seeing any of the stars at night it's real well lit up."

Stafford: "In earthshine you can see right into the craters, you can see shadows in the craters from the earthshine. The more you become adapted to it, it's phenomenal the amount of detail you can see."

Houston: "Roger Ten."

Cernan: "When we opened the tunnel hatch a lot of the LM's insulation had come loose it was like a snow storm in there we had a lot of problems with that for a while."

Stafford: "There was a big thermal cover on the front of the Command Module filled with fibreglass, and when we opened up the tunnel to pressurise the Lunar Module the aluminium cover ripped and all the fibreglass just blew out as the air flowed in and the LM just filled full of the stuff. Gene had the stuff in his eyebrows his hair looked like he'd just come out of a chicken coop. Then we all started to itch we itched all the way back. It eventually went to the inlet screens of the airconditioning and we tried scraping it off there. We still had pieces of it all the way back."

Following some concern about an unusual twist of 3.5 in the two spacecraft's alignment while docked due to some holes that hadn't been drilled, Charlie Brown and Snoopy separated. Stafford and Cernan were now in a spacecraft that could not get them back onto the Earth. They were relying on the Lunar Module giving a faultless performance and their being able to rendezvous and dock safely. What if something went wrong on their return to Young, and they were unable to dock properly, as nearly happened on Apollo 14? They would be stranded in lunar orbit, and Young would have to return home alone. As Charlie Brown fell away Cernan called out to Young: "Have a good time while we're gone, baby," and Stafford added: "Yeah - don't get lonesome out there, John." They fired Snoopy's rocket to drop down to within 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) of the Sea of Tranquillity.

Cernan: "I'm tell you, we are low. We're close baby! ..... we is down among 'em, Charlie."

Then Stafford brought the Lunar Module down over the second site and called, "Okay, we are coming up over the site. There's plenty of holes there. The surface is actually very smooth, like a very wet clay..... with the exception of the very big craters."

At 7:32 pm the two astronauts were suddenly thrown around in their hold down straps as the Lunar Module began to buck wildly.

Stafford: "We were going along upside down and backwards about a minute before the descent stage thrusters were due to fire, I looked down and the instruments were showing we were yawing right, and I looked at the eight ball and I had no yaw, so it looked like we had a yaw right gyro failure and it also looked like an electrical glitch, so I started trouble shooting, but we had a wrong position on a switch and the whole thing started tumbling over at about 60 per second. I just reached over and blew off the descent stage early. All the attitude control thrusters were on the ascent stage and the descent stage weighed about twice as much as the ascent stage so without the descent stage I had more control."

Cernan: "I saw the lunar horizon coming through my window about five times from different directions in about 8 seconds. We were able to throw the right switches to get it under control it was hard but we did it. We weren't being banged around the cockpit, we were cinched down in our straps in a standing position."

Cernan: "Son of a bitch! I don't know what the hell that was, baby. The thing just took off on us. I tell you, there was a moment there.... I thought we were wobbling all over the sky."

Cernan: "Those words came involuntarily I didn't even know I had said them until I got home and somebody played the tape for me. It was just a natural emotion those words didn't come out until after we got things under control. You know, you're a long way from home at 50,000 feet above the lunar surface and all of a sudden you're spinning around in three different directions 8 seconds can be a long time."

The wild gyrations were caused by a switch in the navigation system set incorrectly instead of keeping Snoopy on a steady course, the system went looking for Charlie Brown that wasn't there.

Cernan: "I was on the right hand side, and we were using both the Primary computer and the Abort Guidance computer for test purposes for that staging event and I put the switch in a specific position for Tom to go ahead and stage and Tom didn't know I had put it there, so he moved it back to the other position, giving it back to the Abort Guidance position, I think. It all happened so fast we weren't sure how it happened. I was always convinced that it was a switch that had been mistakenly, but legitimately, moved by each of us, both trying to do the right thing."

Ten minutes later the rocket fired to push them back up into orbit to meet Young in Charlie Brown. At 11:00 pm they met, and Mission Control broke out a large cartoon showing Snoopy kissing Charlie Brown, saying, "You're right on target, Charlie Brown," and a little later Snoopy's ascent engine was fired for a test before it was cast off.

Cernan: "We sent Snoopy off into orbit around the sun I don't know if it's still there or not. Who knows? Who knows where that thing is now?"

After 31 orbits Apollo 10 and its crew left the moon, sending TV pictures of it back to Earth. At 12:51 pm EST on May 26, they splashed down into the Pacific 395 miles (635.7 km) east of Pago Pago, three miles from the recovery carrier USS Princeton. The crew aboard the carrier were treated to a spectacular sight of the Service Module streaking across the predawn sky in a blazing fireball as it burned up, followed by the Command Module silhouetted against the lightening sky under its three big parachutes. Waiting beneath, the recovery helicopters buzzed about with their flashing running lights stabbing the dark velvet blue sky.

Cernan: "Was it frustrating to be so close to landing? absolutely not. Just to be on a flight that went that far to the moon there was so much at stake on our flight we almost dictated whether Apollo 11 was going to get the chance or not. Even twenty five years later in retrospect it was not frustrating, nor was it disappointing to me. Of course, I had the chance to go back, which was important to me as well."

Saxon at Honeysuckle: "Apollo 10 was the first time we really started to get the system working as it was designed to work, which was one station looking at the Lunar Module and one station looking at the Command Module. The whole system was beginning to pull together more like the landing was going to be on Apollo 11."



The American's were now ready for a landing on the moon. NASA Administrator Paine said, "Today, this moment, with the Apollo 10 crew safely on board, we know we can go to the moon."

The Americans had now been right down the track, right down to the last step. All the paving blocks to complete the track to the actual moon's surface were set firmly in place.

Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, watched Apollo 10 very closely, and were very relieved when it was declared a success as it meant that their Apollo 11 mission would be the first attempt to land. Compared to Alan Shepard's 150 hours of simulations for his first Mercury flight, they each spent over 400 hours, fifty working days, in simulators wrestling with a continuous stream of missions, usually peppered with emergencies, equipment malfunctions, and potential catastrophes to test their knowledge, skill, and coolness to the limits. The training supervisors could fail any subsystem and any of the bank upon bank of 678 switches and 410 circuit breakers toggle switches, thumbwheel switches, press button switches, rotary switches, switches with locks, switches with interlocks, circuit breakers, rods, levers, and control sticks.

The astronauts constantly checked dials, meters, lights, alarms, and indicators looking for signs of trouble that could be introduced by the simulation engineers.

They had to understand, operate, check, control, and monitor parts of the spacecraft such as environment control, fuel, propulsion, photography, radiators, radars, sextants, antennas, timers, computers, purge valves, navigation instruments, pressure regulators, temperature controls, medical monitors, communication panels, fan motors, food, sanitation, lights, fuel cells, guidance systems, telescopes, and waste water systems through 40 miles (64 km) of wire.

The astronauts entered the computer driven simulators prepared for anything, any situation the training supervisors could dream up to exercise their victims to the limit. Hours later they usually crawled out of the cockpit stressed out in a ball of sweat from a continuous bombardment of simulated life threatening situations and equipment failures designed to find any weaknesses in their operational and technical skills. But by the time they were ready for going to the moon, the astronauts knew every twist and turn of the normal and emergency operational procedures, every capricious component of the spacecraft's 26 subsystems.

Astronaut John Young called the simulator, a cluster of odd shaped box like structures, "The Great Train Wreck."



Although the famous inventor Thomas Edison began the concept of radio astronomy back in 1890, it was the young American radio engineer Karl Jansky looking for radio interference that detected the first cosmic signals from space in New Jersey in January, 1932. Then, during the Second World War Robert Dicke at the Rad Lab in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology picked up the first radio emissions from the moon, generated by the sun heating the lunar surface. Jack Piddington and Harry Minnett of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) Radiophysics group began to study the surface of the moon in Sydney in 1948. Using a small dish antenna, they determined that the moon's surface was porus rock and gravel covered by a layer of fine dust with an average thickness of 2 cm. In 1946 the first radar signals from the United States and Hungary were bounced off the moon's surface, but the following year it was the CSIRO's trio of Frank Kerr, Alex Shain, and Charles Higgins who began the first scientific study of the lunar surface by radar. Using a powerful transmitter at the "Radio Australia" station at Shepparton in Victoria, and a receiving station at Hornsby in Sydney they analysed the echoes from the moon and found some of their results agreed with Piddington and Minnett's description of the lunar surface.

During the years following the war Australia's CSIRO Radiophysics Laboratory led the world in radio astronomy, and to capitalise on this success built a 210 foot (64 metre) dish antenna at Parkes, 210 km west of Sydney, for serious radio astronomy research. The celebrated British inventor Barnes Wallis was involved in the early design of the Parkes telescope, and some of its design features were used as a basis for the design of the original JPL big Deep Space antennas, one of them at Tidbinbilla. Officially opened by the Goveror General, Lord De L'Isle, on Tuesday, October 31, 1961, the new radio telescope quickly leapt to the forefront of cosmic exploration, being involved in the discovery of Quasars.The Parkes radio telescope was about to add another illustrious phase to its career supporting the Apollo 11 mission.

Dr John Bolton, Director of the Parkes Observatory at the time, tells us how it happened: "I was approached in 1968 in the USA at a carefully arranged dinner party at Bob Leighton's home at which the only other guests were Eb Rechtin of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and his wife. We were asked to back up Goldstone for the planned moon walk, in case of a delayed take off or other reasons. The fact there were to be human beings at risk in space sold the project to Taffy (Dr. E.G. Bowen, originator of the Parkes Telescope) and me but, even though there was to be some reimbursement for the Radiophysics coffers, it found little favour with the staff. Rechtin made a visit to Parkes shortly afterwards.

The next step was a meeting convened with the Australian Department of Supply to arrange contract details. For two hours this meeting addressed neither Bob Taylor, the American engineer to be Parkes based, or me the principal actors. Fortunately he and I had spent the previous evening together discussing our roles, so I ended the meeting by saying that Taylor and I could work together and that I would only accept a one line contract the Radiophysics division would agree to support the Apollo 11 mission."

At this point there was no provision to transmit a television picture from Honeysuckle to the outside world, and it was decided to install a television link from Honeysuckle Creek to Canberra. Trevor Gray was a PMG (now Telstra) technician on the installation team: "We worked hard night and day to get this link in place. First a temporary tower was put up beside the road into Honeysuckle, and dish antennas mounted on top. Equipment was then connected to them, most of it in the basement of the station building. The link went from Honeysuckle to Williamsdale, then back to Red Hill in Canberra.

We had mixed up brand dish antennas everything was grabbed from everywhere. We were told there was no money for capital works we couldn't buy anything, but there was plenty of money for operations. There was some Collins gear that NASA had, and we had to match their gear to our gear so someone showed us a lathe out the back of Honeysuckle and having had a few hours of experience on lathes before we made these joints up and bolted them together. For the actual moon landing the ABC put in another link in beside ours, so we had two links plus a standby.

These links were difficult to maintain it was winter time, very cold, and there was a high voltage in these joints and moisture got in them and a few of them blew up, naturally some in the middle of the night. We ended up sealing them up with epoxy rosin. Normally these links were designed to only be up for a hour or so, say during a football match, they weren't meant to stay there for long. By the time of the first moon landing we had it settled down enough to last through the mission. It meant that not many of us got much sleep."

The world's media was now gearing up for that historic, epoch making event Apollo 11 and a human stepping onto another celestial body. While the Americans were riding high on their space successes, the Russian moon program was entering its death throes. On July 3, 1969, an attempt to launch the N1 rocket ended in a monster fireball on the launch pad, destroying most of the complex and taking another practice N1 rocket nearby with it. Unofficial reports suggest there were massive casualties among observers at the second rocket. The shock waves were supposed to have been recorded 2,000 miles (3,219 km) away in Stockholm, and spy satellites showed a big hole in the ground. Any Russian hopes of landing on the moon before the Americans faded with the dying embers of the fireball they had just witnessed. Two more attempts to fly the N-1 in June 1971, and November 1972, also failed. It seems that the 30 motors that made up the N-1 may have been just too much to synchronise in the time available.

As a final gesture of defiance, the Russians sent their Luna 15 spacecraft up on a Proton booster just three days before Apollo 11 left the Earth. It entered lunar orbit during July 17, and stabilised into a 69 x 10 mile (111 x 16 km) orbit, taking 1 hour 54 minutes to go around once. The Russians had planned it to land on the surface, drill a core sample, and bring it back to Earth before the Apollo 11 astronauts returned, to try and convince the West they were not racing to put a man on the moon; and that a robot can do the job just as effectively as man. Luna 15 crashed onto the lunar surface, and it was left to Luna 16 to bring a sample back - but by then it was too late.

Armstrong introduced Apollo 11 with: "We had a great deal of confidence. We had confidence in our hardware; the Saturn rocket, the Command and Lunar Modules. All flight segments had been flown on the earlier Apollo flights with the exception of the descent and ascent from the moon's surface, and of course, the exploration work on the surface. Although confident, we were certainly not over confident. We were not overly concerned with our safety, but we would not be surprised if a malfunction or an unforeseen occurrence prevented a successful landing.

As we ascended the elevator to the top of the Saturn we knew hundreds of thousands of Americans had given their best effort for us. Now it was time for us to give our best."

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